"True! I will set out on the journey immediately after Danveld's funeral."
"May God bless you, my dear son! If you do all properly, they not only will not detain you, but they will have to disavow Jurand, so that we may not be able to say: 'Look how they treat us!'"
"And so we must sue at all courts."
"The grand master will attend to that for the benefit of the Order, besides being Danveld's relative."
"But if that devil of Spychow should survive and regain his liberty!..."
A dark look came into Zygfried's eyes and he replied slowly and emphatically:
"Even if he should regain his liberty, he will never utter a word of accusation against the Order."
He then commenced again to instruct Rotgier, what to say and demand at the court in Mazowsze.
The rumor of the occurrence in Szczytno arrived in Warsaw however before Brother Rotgier, and there excited amazement and concern. Neither the king himself, nor anybody else at the court, could understand what had happened. Shortly before, just when Mikolaj of Dlugolas was starting for Malborg with the prince's letter, in which he bitterly complained of the capture of Danusia by turbulent border counts and almost threateningly demanded her instant restoration, a letter had arrived from the owner of Spychow stating that his daughter was not captured by the Teutons, but by ordinary border bandits, and that she would be soon released for a ransom. On that account the messenger did not leave; nobody ever dreamed of the Teutons extorting such a letter from Jurand by the threat of his daughter's death. It was difficult to understand what had happened, because the border chiefs, who were subjects of the prince as well as of the Order, attacked one another in the summer, but not in the winter when the snows betrayed their trail. They also usually attacked merchants, or perpetrated robberies in the villages, capturing people and seizing their herds, but to dare to attack the prince himself and to capture his protegee, who was at the same time the daughter of a powerful and universally feared knight, this seemed entirely to exceed human belief. This, as well as other doubts, was answered by Jurand's letter under his own seal, brought this time by a man who was known to come from Spychow; under such circumstances all suspicions became impossible; the prince only became more enraged than he had ever been seen before, and he ordered a pursuit of the ravishers throughout the border of his principality, at the same time ordering the prince of Plock to do the same and not fail to punish the insolent fellows.
Just then arrived the news of what had happened at Szczytno.
And as it passed from mouth to mouth, it was multiplied tenfold. It was said that Jurand, having arrived all alone in the castle, ran in through the open gate and there committed such slaughter that the garrison was so terrified that it had to send for help to the neighboring castles, to summon the superior knighthood and armed foot-soldiers, who only after a two days' siege succeeded in reentering the castle and there slaying Jurand as well as his associates. It was also said that those forces would probably cross the border, and that a great war would undoubtedly begin. The prince, who knew of how great consequence it was to the grand master in case of war with the Polish king for the powers of both principalities of Mazowsze to remain neutral, did not believe these stories, because it was no secret to him, that should the Teutons declare war on him or the principality of Plock, no human power could keep the Poles back; the master therefore dreaded that war. He knew that it must come, but he wished to postpone it, firstly, because he was of a peaceful disposition, and secondly, because, in order to meet Jagiello's power, it was necessary to gather a strength which the Order until now had never yet possessed, and at the same time to secure the assistance of the princes and knighthood, not only in Germany, but also in the entire West.
The prince, therefore, did not fear the war, but he wished to know what had happened, what he really was to think of the occurrence in Szczytno, of the disappearance of Danusia, and all those stories which arrived from the border; he was also glad, although he hated the Teutons, when on a certain evening the captain of the archers informed him that a knight of the Order had arrived and begged for an audience.
He received him proudly, nevertheless, and although he recognized him instantly as one of the brethren who were in the Forest Court, he pretended not to recollect him and inquired who he was, whence he came, and what caused his arrival in Warsaw.
"I am Brother Rotgier," replied the Teuton, "and a short time ago I had the honor to bow before your Highness."
"Why then, being a brother, do you not wear the insignia of the Order?"
The knight commenced to explain that he did not wear a white cloak, because by so doing he would be undoubtedly captured or killed by the knighthood of Mazowsze: throughout the whole world, in all kingdoms and principalities, the sign of the cross on the cloak is a protection and gains human good-will and hospitality, and only in the principality of Mazowsze does the cross expose the man who wears it to certain death.
But the prince interrupted him angrily:
"Not the cross," he said, "because we also kiss it, but your vices and if they receive you better elsewhere it is, because they do not know you so well."
Then, seeing that the knight was greatly troubled at these words, he inquired: "Were you in Szczytno, do you know what happened there?"
"I was in Szczytno and know what happened there," replied Rotgier, "and I came here not as any one's messenger, but only because the experienced and pious count of Insburk told me: 'Our master loves the pious prince and trusts in his justice, therefore while I hasten to Malborg, you go to Mazowsze and state our grievance, our disgrace, our misery. The just lord will surely not praise a violator of peace and a cruel aggressor, who has shed so much Christian blood, as though he were not Christ's servant but Satan's.'" And then he commenced to narrate everything that had occurred in Szczytno: How Jurand, who had been summoned by them to see whether the girl whom they had taken away from the robbers was not his daughter, instead of repaying that with thankfulness, had fallen into a fit; how he had killed Danveld, Brother Godfried, the Englishmen Hugues, von Bracht and two noble warriors, not counting the servants; how they, remembering God's commandment and not wishing to kill, had finally been compelled to coil the terrible man in a net, who had then turned his sword against himself and wounded himself terribly; how lastly, not only in the castle but also in the tower, there were people, who, in the midst of a wintry gale during the night after the fight, had heard terrible laughter and voices in the air calling: "Our Jurand! Wrongdoer of the cross! Shedder of innocent blood! Our Jurand!"
And the whole story, especially the last words of the Teuton, made a great impression upon all present. Terror fell upon them all. They were simply overwhelmed with fear lest Jurand had actually summoned unclean powers to his assistance, and deep silence followed. But the princess, who was present at the audience, and who, loving Danusia, had a heart full of inconsolable sorrow for her, turned with an unexpected question to Rotgier: "You say, knight," she remarked, "that, after capturing the girl, you thought her to be Jurand's daughter, and therefore summoned him to Szczytno?"
"Yes, beloved lady," replied Rotgier.
"How could you have thought so, since you saw the real daughter of Jurand with me in the Forest Court?"
At that Brother Rotgier became embarrassed, because he was not prepared for such a question. The prince arose and fixed a severe look on the Teuton, while Mikolaj of Dlugolas, Mrokota of Mocarzew, Jasko of Jagielnica and other knights of Mazowsze instantly sprang toward the brother, inquiring alternately with threatening voices:
"How could you have thought so? Speak, German I How could that be?"
And Brother Rotgier recovered himself and said: "We brethren do not raise our eyes to women. In the Forest Court with the beloved princess there were many court ladies, but which among them was Jurand's daughter, none of us knew."
"Danveld knew," said Mikolaj of Dlugolas. "He even talked to her during the hunt."
"Danveld stands before God," replied Rotgier, "and of him I shall only say that the following morning blooming roses were found on his coffin, which, in this wintry weather, could not come there by human hands."
Then again followed silence.
"How did you know of the capture of Jurand's daughter?" inquired the prince.
"Only the wickedness and audacity of the deed made it known to us. Therefore on hearing about it, we ordered thanksgiving masses because only a plain court lady, and not one of the children born of your Highness, was captured from the Forest Court."
"But I still wonder, how you could mistake a wench for Jurand's daughter."
"Danveld said: 'Often Satan betrayed his servants, so perhaps he changed Jurand's daughter.'"
"The robbers though, as vulgar men, could not counterfeit Kaleb's writing and Jurand's seal. Who could have done it?"
"The Evil Spirit."
And again nobody could find an answer.
Rotgier glanced searchingly into the prince's eyes and said: "Indeed, these questions are like weapons in my breast, because they contain doubt and suspicion. But I trust in God's justice and the power of truth. I ask of your majesty: even Jurand himself suspected us of that action, and when suspecting, before we summoned him to Szczytno, why did he search for robbers through the whole border in order to buy his daughter back from them?"
"It is true!" said the prince. "Even if you were hiding something from men, you cannot hide it from God. He suspected you in the first moment but then ... then he thought differently."
"Behold how the brightness of truth conquers the darkness," said Rotgier, and he glanced triumphantly around the hall; he thought that Teutonic heads had more adroitness and sense than the Polish, and that the latter race would always be the prey and food of the Order, as a fly is the prey and food of the spider.
Therefore, throwing off his previous disguise, he approached the prince and commenced to speak in loud and impetuous tones:
"Requite us, lord, our losses, our grievances, our tears, and our blood! That hell-hound was your subject; therefore, in the name of God from whom the power of kings and princes is derived, in the name of justice and the cross, requite us for our grievances and blood!"
But the prince looked at him in astonishment.
"For God's sake!" he said, "what do you want? if Jurand shed your blood in madness, am I to answer for his frenzy?"
"He was your subject, lord," said the Teuton, "in your principality lie his possessions, his villages and his castle, in which he imprisoned the servants of the Order; at least let these possessions, this domain and that wicked castle, become henceforth the property of the Order. Truly this will not be an adequate payment for the noble blood shed! truly it will not revive the dead, but perhaps it will partly appease God's anger and wipe away the disgrace, which will otherwise fall upon this entire principality. O, lord! The Order possesses grounds and castles everywhere, which were given to it by the favor and piety of the Christian princes, and only here in your territory have we no particle of land. Let our grievance, which calls to God for vengeance, be at least so rewarded that we may say that here also live people, who have the fear of God in their hearts!" Hearing this, the prince was still more amazed, and then, after a long silence, replied:
"For God's sake! And through whose clemency, if not through that of my ancestors, does your Order even exist here? The lands, estates and towers, which once upon a time belonged to us and our nation, and which now are your property, do these not suffice for you yet? Jurand's girl is yet alive because nobody has informed you of her death, while you already want to seize the orphan's dower, and requite your grievances with an orphan's bread?"
"Lord, you admit the wrong," said Rotgier, "consequently right it according to what your princely conscience and your honest soul dictates." And he was again glad in his heart, because he thought: "Now, they not only will not sue but they will even consider how to wash their hands and to evade the whole matter. Nobody will blame us for anything, and our fame will be as spotless as the white cloak of the Order."
Just then the voice of old Mikolaj of Dlugolas was heard: "They suspect you of being avaricious and God knows whether justly or no, because even in this matter, you care more for the profits than the honor of the Order."
"True!" cried the Mazovian knights in chorus. Then the Teuton advanced a few steps, proudly raised his head, and measuring them with a haughty look, said:
"I do not come here as a messenger, but merely as a witness of the affair and a knight of the Order who is ready to defend the honor of the Order with his own blood to the last gasp! Who, then, in contradiction to Jurand's own words, dares to suspect the Order of having captured his daughter—let him raise this knightly pledge and submit to God's judgment!"
Having said this, he cast before them his knightly glove, which fell upon the floor; they again stood in deep silence, because, although more than one of them would have liked to break his weapon on the Teuton's back, they all feared God's judgment. Every one knew that Jurand had expressly stated that the knights of the Order had not captured his child; so they all thought to themselves, "It is a just cause; consequently Rotgier will be victorious."
He again became so much the more insolent, and leaning upon his loins, inquired:
"If it is so, who will raise that glove?"
Just then, a knight, whose entrance nobody had yet observed, and who for some time had listened at the door to the conversation, advanced to the centre, raised the gauntlet and said:
"I will!" and so saying, he stared directly into Rotgier's face, and then began to speak with a voice which in that universal silence resounded like thunder through the hall:
"Before God, before the august prince and all the honorable knighthood of this land, I tell you, Teuton, that you bark like a dog against justice and truth—and I challenge you to a combat on foot, or horseback, with lance or axe, short or long weapons, and not unto imprisonment but unto the last gasp, unto death!"
A fly could be heard in the hall. All eyes were turned upon Rotgier and the challenging knight, whom nobody recognized, because he had a helmet covering his head, although without a steel cap, but with a circular visor descending below the ear entirely covering the upper part of the face, and casting a deep shadow over the lower part. The Teuton was no less astonished than the rest. Confusion, pallor and raging anger chased each other over his face, as lightning flashes across a mighty heaven.
He caught the gauntlet and attached it to the hook of his armlet, and said:
"Who are you that challenge God's justice?"
The other then unbuckled his gorget, removed the helmet, beneath which appeared a fair, youthful head, and said:
"Zbyszko of Bogdaniec, the husband of Jurand's daughter."
They were all amazed, and Rotgier, with the others, because none of them, except the prince and his wife, Father Wyszoniek and de Lorche, knew of Danusia's marriage; the Teutons moreover were confident that Jurand's daughter had no other natural defender besides her father; but at that moment de Lorche stood up and said:
"Upon my knightly honor I vouch for the truthfulness of his words; should anybody dare to doubt it, here is my guage."
Rotgier, who did not know what fear meant, and whose heart swelled with anger at this moment, would have perhaps accepted even this challenge, but remembering that the man who cast it was powerful, and moreover a relative of Duke Geldryi, he refrained, and the more readily, because the prince himself arose and, wrinkling his brows, said:
"It is forbidden to accept this challenge, because I also declare that this knight has told the truth."
The Teuton, on hearing this, bowed, and then said to Zbyszko:
"If you wish it, then on foot, in closed lists with axes."
"I have already challenged you in all ways," replied Zbyszko.
"May God give the victory to justice!" exclaimed the Mazovian knights.
There was anxiety about Zbyszko in the whole court, among the knights as well as among the ladies, because he was universally liked; but, according to Jurand's letter, nobody doubted that the right was on the side of the Teuton. On the other hand it was known that Rotgier was one of the more famous brethren of the Order. The squire van Krist narrated among the Mazovian nobility, perhaps on purpose, that his lord before becoming an armed monk, once sat at the Honor-Table of the Teutons, to which table only world-famous knights were admitted, those who had accomplished an expedition to the Holy Land, or fought victoriously against giants, dragons, or mighty magicians. Hearing van Krist tell such tales, and, at the same time, boast that his lord had repeatedly met five opponents single-handed with his "dagger of mercy" in one hand and an axe or sword in the other, the Mazurs were disquieted, and some said: "Oh, if only Jurand were here, he could give an account of himself with even two; no German ever escaped him yet, but the youth—bah!—for the other exceeds him in strength, years and experience."
Therefore others regretted that they had not accepted the challenge, asserting that they would undoubtedly have done so, if it had not been for the news from Jurand. "But fear of the judgment of God...." On this occasion, and for mutual entertainment, they recalled the names of Mazovian and more often of Polish knights, who, either in courtly jousts or hunting, had gained numerous victories over the western knights; above all they mentioned Zawisza of Garbow, with whom no knight of the Christian kingdom could cope. But there were also those who cherished great hopes of Zbyszko: "He is not to be despised!" they said "and according to common report he once admirably broke the heads of Germans in fair field." But their hearts were particularly strengthened by the action of Zbyszko's follower, the Bohemian Hlawa, who, on the eve of the combat, hearing how van Krist was talking about Rotgier's unheard-of victories, and being a hasty youth, caught van Krist by the beard, pulled his head up, and said:
"If it is no shame to lie before men, then look up, so that God also may hear you!"
And he kept him long enough to say a "Pater"; while the other, when at length liberated, began to ask him about his lineage, and, having heard that he sprang from the wlodykas, challenged him also to fight with axes.
The Mazovians were delighted at such conduct, and again several said:
"Indeed these fellows will not hobble on the barn-floor; even if truth and God be on their side these Teutonic women will not carry away sound bones with them!"
But Rotgier succeeded in throwing dust in the eyes of all, so that many were disquieted as to which had the truth on his side, and the prince himself partook of that fear.
Therefore, on the evening before the combat, he summoned Zbyszko to a consultation at which was present the princess only, and asked:
"Are you positive that God will be with you? How do you know that they captured Danusia? Did Jurand perchance tell you any thing? Because, you see, here is Jurand's letter, by the hand of the priest Kaleb, and his seal, and in this letter Jurand says that he knows that it was not the Teutons. What did he tell you?"
"He said that it was not the Teutons."
"How then can you risk your life and appeal to the judgment of God?"
Then Zbyszko was silent, and only his jaws worked for some time and tears gathered in his eyes.
"I know nothing, gracious lord," he said. "We left here together with Jurand, and on the way I admitted our marriage. He then began to lament that this might be a sin against God, but when I told him it was God's will, he quieted down and forgave me. Along the whole way he said that nobody captured Danusia but the Teutons, and what happened afterward I do not know myself! That woman who brought certain medicines for me to the Forest Court, came to Spychow, accompanied by another messenger. They shut themselves up with Jurand and deliberated. Neither do I know what they said, only after the interview his own servants could not recognize Jurand, because he looked as if he had risen from the grave. He told us: 'Not the Teutons,' but he released von Bergow and all the prisoners he had underground, God knows why! he himself again rode away without any warrior or servant.... He said that he was riding after robbers to ransom Danusia, and ordered me to wait. And I waited until the news from Szczytno arrived, that Jurand had slain Germans and fallen himself. Oh! gracious lord! The soil in Spychow almost scorched me and I nearly ran mad. I made people mount horses in order to revenge Jurand's death, and then the priest Kaleb said: 'You will not be able to take the castle, and do not commence war. Go to the prince, perhaps they know something about Danusia there.' Hlawa and I arrived, and just heard how that dog was barking about Teutonic grievances and Jurand's frenzy.... My lord, I accepted his challenge, because I had challenged him before, and although I know nothing, this much I know, that they are hellish liars—without shame, without honor and without belief! Look, gracious lord, they stabbed de Fourcy to death and tried to cast the guilt upon my follower! By God! they stabbed him like an ox, and then they came to you, lord, for vengeance and retribution! Who will swear then, that they did not lie to Jurand before, and now do the same to you, lord?... I know not, I know not where Danusia is but I challenged him, because, even if I were to lose my life, I prefer death to life without my love, without the one who is clearest to me in the whole world."
Saying this in rapture, he tore off a band from his head, so that his hair fell about his shoulders, and clutching it, he began to weep bitterly, until the princess Anna Danuta was moved to the bottom of her soul for the loss of Danusia, and, pitying him for his sufferings, laid her hands upon his head, and said:
"May God help you, console and bless you!"
The prince did not object to the duel, because, according to the customs of that time, he had no power to do so. He only prevailed upon Rotgier to write a letter to the master and to Zygfried von Loeve, stating that he was the first to throw down the gauntlet to the Mazovian knights, in consequence of which he appeared at a combat with the husband of Jurand's daughter, who had already challenged him once before.
The Teuton also explained to the grand master, that if he appeared at the duel without permission, he did it for the sake of the honor of the Order, and to avert ugly suspicions, which might entail disgrace, and which he, Rotgier, was always prepared to redeem with his own blood. This letter was sent instantly to the border by one of the knight's footmen, to be sent thence to Malborg by mail, which the Teutons, some years before others, invented and introduced into their possessions.
Meanwhile the snow in the courtyard was leveled and strewn with ashes, so that the feet of the fighters should neither clog nor slip upon the smooth surface. There was unusual excitement in the whole castle.
The knights and court ladies were so agitated that on the night preceding the fight nobody slept. They said, that a fight on horseback with spears, and even with swords, frequently terminates in wounds; on foot on the contrary, and particularly with terrible axes, it always terminates in death. All hearts were with Zbyszko, but the very ones who felt most friendly toward him or Danusia recollected with so much more fear the stories about the fame and dexterity of the Teuton. Many ladies spent the night in church, where also Zbyszko confessed to the priest Wyszoniek, They said one to another as they looked at his almost boyish face: "Why, he is a child yet! how can he expose his head to the German axe?" And they prayed the more fervently for aid for him. But when he arose at daybreak and walked through the chapel, in order to put on his arms in the hall, they again gained courage, because, although Zbyszko's features were indeed boyish, his body was of an extraordinary size, and strong, so that he seemed to them to be a picked man, who could take care of himself against even the most powerful.
The fight was to take place in the castle yard, which was surrounded by a porch. When it was broad daylight, the prince and princess arrived together with their children and took their seats in the centre between the pillars, from where the whole yard could best be overlooked. Next to them were the principal courtiers, noble ladies, and the knighthood. All the corners of the vestibule were filled: the domestics gathered behind the wall which was made from the swept snow, some clung to the posts, and even to the roof. There the vulgar muttered among themselves: "God grant that our champion may not be subdued!"
The day was cold, moist, but clear; the sky swarmed with daws, which inhabited the roofs and summits of the bastions, and which, scared by the unusual bustle, moved in circles, with great clapping of wings, over the castle. Notwithstanding the cold, the people perspired with excitement, and when the first horn sounded to announce the entrance of the combatants, all hearts began to beat like hammers.
They entered from opposite sides of the arena and halted at the barriers. Every one of the onlookers then held his breath, every one thought, that very soon two souls would escape to the threshold of the Divine Court and two dead bodies remain on the snow, and the lips, as well as the cheeks of the women turned pale and livid at that thought; the eyes of the men again gazed steadfastly at the opponents as at a rainbow, because every one was trying to forecast, from their postures and armament alone, which side would be victorious.
The Teuton was dressed in an enameled blue cuirass, with similar armor for the thighs, as also the helmet with raised visor, and with a magnificent bunch of peacock feathers on the crest. Zbyszko's breast, sides and back were encased in splendid Milanese mail, which he had once captured from the Fryzjans. He had on his head a helmet with an open visor, and without feathers; on his legs was bull's hide. On their left shoulders, they carried shields with coat of arms; on the Teuton's at the top was a chessboard, at the bottom, three lions rampant; on Zbyszko's, a blunt horseshoe. In the right hand they carried broad, huge, terrible axes, set in oaken, blackened helves, longer than the arm of a grown man. The warriors who seconded them were: Hlawa, called by Zbyszko, Glowacz, and van Krist, both dressed in dark iron mail, both equally with axes and shields: van Krist had on his shield a St. John's wort; the shield of the Bohemian resembled that of the Pomian, with this difference, that instead of an axe stuck in a bull's head, it had a short weapon half sunk in the eye.
The horn sounded the second time, and, at the third, the opponents, according to agreement, were to advance against each other. A small space strewn with grey ashes now only separated them; over that space hovered in the air like an ominous bird—death. But before the third signal was given, Rotgier approached the pillars between which sat the prince's family, raised his steel-encased head, and began to speak in such a loud voice that he was heard in all corners of the vestibule:
"I take God, you, worthy lord, and the whole knighthood of this soil, as witness that I am not guilty of the blood that is about to be shed."
At these words their hearts were again ready to break with grief, seeing that the Teuton was so confident of himself and his victory. But Zbyszko, having a simple soul, turned to his Bohemian, and said:
"That Teutonic boasting stinks; it would be more appropriate after my death than while I am alive. That boaster moreover has a peacock's plume on his helmet, and at the very outset I made a vow to obtain three of them and afterward as many fingers of the hand. God grant it!"
"Lord ..." said the Bohemian, bending down and picking up in his hands some ashes from the snow, to prevent the axe-handle from slipping in his hand; "perhaps Christ will permit me quickly to despatch that vile Prussian, and then perhaps, if not to defeat this Teuton, at least put the handle of the axe between his knees and upset him."
"God save you!" hastily exclaimed Zbyszko; "you would cover me and yourself with disgrace."
But at that moment the horn sounded the third time. On hearing it, the seconds sprang quickly and furiously at each other, while the knights moved slowly and deliberately, as their dignity and gravity demanded, for the first bout.
Very few paid attention to the seconds, but those of the experienced men and of the domestics who looked at them understood at once how great were the odds on Hlawa's side. The German wielded the heavier axe and his shield was cumbersome. Below the shield were visible his legs which were longer, though not so strong nor active as the sturdy and tightly covered legs of the Bohemian.
Hlawa moreover pressed so vigorously that van Krist, almost from the first moment, was compelled to retreat. It was instantly understood that one of the adversaries would fall upon the other like a tempest; that he would attack and strike like lightning, while the other, under the conviction that death was already upon him, would merely defend himself so as to postpone the terrible moment as long as possible.
And so it actually was. That boaster, who generally stood up to fight only when he could not do otherwise, now recognized that his insolent and heedless words had led him into a fight with a terrible giant whom he ought to have avoided like a perdition; and so, when he now felt that every one of these blows could kill an ox, his heart began to fail entirely. He almost forgot that it is not sufficient to catch the blows on the shield, but that it was also necessary to return them. He saw above him the lightning of the axe and thought that every gleam was the last. Holding up the shield, he involuntarily half closed his eyes with a feeling of terror and doubt whether he would ever open them again. Very rarely he gave a blow himself, but without any hope of reaching his opponent, and raised the shield constantly higher over his head, so as to save it yet for a little.
Finally he began to tire, but the Bohemian struck on constantly more powerfully. Just as from a tall pine-tree great chips fly under the peasant's axe, so under the Bohemian's strokes fragments began to scale off and fly from the German warrior's armor. The upper edge of the shield was bent and shattered, the mail from the right shoulder rolled to the ground, together with the cut and already bloody strap of leather. This made van Krist's hair stand on end—and a deadly fear seized him. He struck with all the force of his arm once and again at the Bohemian's shield; finally, seeing that he had no chance against his adversary's terrible strength and that only some extraordinary exertion could save him, he threw himself suddenly with all the weight of his armor and body against Hlawa's legs. Both fell to the ground and tried to overcome each other, rolling and struggling in the snow. But the Bohemian soon appeared on top; for a moment he still checked the desperate efforts of his opponent; finally he pressed his knee upon the chain-armor covering his belly, and took from the back of his belt a short three-edged "dagger of mercy."
"Spare me!" faintly gasped van Krist, raising his eyes toward those of the Bohemian.
But the latter, instead of answering, stretched himself upon him the easier to reach his neck, and, cutting through the leather fastening of the helmet under the chin, stabbed the unfortunate man twice in the throat, directing the sharp edge downward toward the centre of the breast.
Then van Krist's pupils sank in their sockets, his hands and legs began to beat the snow, as if trying to clean it of the ashes, but after a moment he stiffened out and lay motionless, breathing only with red, foam-covered lips, and bleeding profusely.
But the Bohemian arose, wiped the "dagger of mercy" on the German's clothing, then raised the axe, and, leaning against it, he began to look at the harder and more stubborn fight between his knight and Brother Rotgier.
The western knights were already accustomed to comforts and luxuries, while the landowners in Little Poland and Great Poland, as also in Mazowsze, led a rigorous and hardy life, wherefore they awoke admiration by their bodily strength and endurance of all hardships, whether constant or occasional, even among strangers and foes. Now also it was demonstrated that Zbyszko was as superior to the Teuton in bodily strength as his squire was superior to van Krist, but it was also proven that his youth rendered him the inferior in knightly training.
It was in some measure favorable for Zbyszko that he had chosen a combat with axes, because fencing with that kind of weapon was impossible. With long and short swords, with which it was necessary to know the strokes, thrusts, and how to ward off blows, the German would have had a considerable superiority. But even so, Zbyszko, as well as the spectators, recognized from his motions and management of the shield, that they had before them an experienced and formidable man, who apparently was not entering a combat of this kind for the first time. To each of Zbyszko's blows Rotgier offered his shield, slightly withdrawing it at the concussion, by which means even the most powerful swing lost its force, and could neither cleave nor crush the smooth surface. He at times retreated and at times became aggressive, doing it quietly, though so quickly that the eyes could hardly follow his motions.
The prince was seized with fear for Zbyszko, and the faces of the men looked gloomy; it seemed that the German was purposely trifling with his opponent. Sometimes he did not even interpose the shield, but at the moment when Zbyszko struck, be turned half aside, so that the sharp edge of the axe cut the empty air. This was the most terrifying thing, because Zbyszko might thereby lose his balance and fall, and then his destruction would be inevitable. Seeing this, the Bohemian, standing over the slain van Krist, also became alarmed, and said to himself: "My God! if my master falls, I will strike him with the hook of my axe between the shoulder-blades, and overthrow him also."
However, Zbyszko did not fall, because, being very strong upon his legs and separating them widely, he was able to support the entire weight of his body on either as he swung.
Rotgier observed that instantly, and the onlookers were mistaken in supposing that he underestimated his opponent. On the contrary, after the first strokes, when, in spite of his utmost skill in withdrawing the shield, his hand almost stiffened under it, he understood that he would have a hard time with this youth, and that, if he did not knock him down by some clever manoeuvre, the combat would prove long and dangerous. He expected Zbyszko to fall upon the snow after a vain stroke in the air, and as that did not happen, he immediately became uneasy. He saw, beneath the steel visor, the closely-drawn nostrils and mouth of his opponent, and occasionally his gleaming eyes, and he said to himself that the other would fly into a blind rage and forget himself, lose his head, and madly think more of striking than of defending himself. But he was mistaken in this also. Zbyszko did not know how to avoid a stroke by a half-turn, but he did not forget his shield, and, while raising the axe, did not expose himself more than was necessary. His attention was apparently redoubled, and having recognized the experience and skill of his opponent, instead of forgetting himself he collected his thoughts and became more cautious; and there was that premeditation in his blows which not hot but cool anger only can conquer.
Rotgier, who had fought in many wars and battles, either in troop or singly, knew by experience that there are some people, like birds of prey, who are born to fight, being specially gifted by Nature, who bestows all things, with what others only attain after years of training, and he at the same time observed that he was now dealing with one of those. He understood from the very first strokes that there was in this youth something as in a hawk, who sees in his opponent only his prey, and thinks of nothing but getting him in his claws. Notwithstanding his own strength, he also noticed that it was not equal to Zbyszko's, and should he get exhausted before succeeding in giving a final stroke, the combat with this formidable, although less experienced, stripling, might result in his ruin. Thus reflecting, he determined to fight with the least possible effort, drew the shield closer to him, did not move much either forward or backward, restricted his motions, and gathered all the power of his soul and arm for one decisive stroke, and awaited his opportunity.
The terrible fight lasted longer than usual. A deathlike silence reigned in the porches. The only sounds heard were the sometimes ringing and sometimes hollow blows of the sharp points and edges of the axes against the shields. Such sights were not strange to the princes, knights and courtiers; and nevertheless a feeling, resembling terror, seemed to clutch all hearts as if with tongs. It was understood that this was not a mere exhibition of strength, skill and courage, but that in this fight there was a greater fury and despair, a greater and more inexorable stubbornness, a deeper vengeance. On one side terrible wrongs, love and fathomless sorrow; on the other, the honor of the entire Order and deep hatred, met on this field of battle for the Judgment of God.
Meanwhile the wintry, pale morning brightened, the grey fog cleared away, and the sunrays shone upon the blue cuirass of the Teuton and the silver Milanese armor of Zbyszko. The bell rang in the chapel for early mass, and at the sounds of the bell flights of crows again flew from the castle roofs, flapping their wings and crowing noisily, as if in joy at the sight of blood and the corpse lying motionless in the snow. Rotgier looked at it once and again during the fight, and suddenly began to feel very lonesome. All the eyes that were turned upon him were those of enemies. All the prayers, wishes and silent vows which the women were offering were in Zbyszko's favor. Moreover, although the Teuton was fully convinced that the squire would not cast himself upon him from behind, nor strike him treacherously, nevertheless, the presence and nearness of that terrifying figure involuntarily inspired him with such fear as people are subject to at the sight of a wolf, a bear or a buffalo, from which they are not separated by bars. And he could not shake off this feeling, especially as the Bohemian, in his desire to follow closely the course of the battle, constantly changed his place, stepping in between the fighters from the side, from behind, from the front—bending his head at the same time, and looking at him fiercely through the visor of the helmet, and sometimes slightly raising his bloody weapon, as if involuntarily.
At last the Teuton began to tire. One after another, he gave two blows, short but terrible, directing them at Zbyszko's right arm, but they were met by the shield with such force that the axe trembled in Rotgier's hand, and he himself was compelled to retreat suddenly to save himself from falling; and from that moment, he retreated steadily. Finally, not only his strength but also his coolness and patience began to be exhausted. At the sight of his retreating, a few triumphant shouts escaped from the breasts of the spectators, awakening in him anger and despair. The strokes of the axes became more frequent. Perspiration flowed from the brows of both fighters, and panting breath escaped from their breasts through their clenched teeth. The spectators ceased keeping silence, and now every moment voices, male or female, cried: "Strike! At him!... God's judgment! God's punishment! God help you!"
The prince motioned with his hand several times to silence them, but he could not restrain them! Every moment the noise increased, because children here and there began to cry on the porches, and finally, at the very side of the princess, a youthful, sobbing, female voice called out:
"For Danusia, Zbyszko! for Danusia!"
Zbyszko knew well that it was for Danusia's sake. He was sure that this Teuton had assisted in her capture, and in fighting him, he fought for her wrongs. But being young and eager for battles, during the combat he had thought of that only. But suddenly, that cry brought back to his mind her loss and her sufferings. Love, sorrow and vengeance poured fire into his veins. His heart began to call out with suddenly awakened pain, and he was plainly seized with a fighting frenzy. The Teuton could not any longer catch nor avoid the terrible strokes, resembling thunderbolts. Zbyszko struck his shield against his with such superhuman force, that the German's arm stiffened suddenly and fell.... He retreated in terror and half crouched, but that instant there flashed in his eyes the gleam of the axe, and the sharp edge fell like a thunderbolt upon his right shoulder.
Only a rending cry reached the ears of the onlookers: "Jesus!"—then Rotgier retreated one more step and fell upon his back on the ground. Immediately there was a noise and buzz on the porches, as in a bee-garden in which the bees, warmed by the sun, commence to move and swarm. The knights ran down the stairs in whole throngs, the servants jumped over the snow-walls, to take a look at the corpses. Everywhere resounded the shouts: "This is God's judgment ... Jurand has an heir! Glory to him and thanksgiving! This is a man for the axe!" Others again cried: "Look and marvel! Jurand himself could not strike more nobly." A whole group of curious ones stood around Rotgier's corpse, and he lay on his back with a face as white as snow, with gaping mouth and with a bloody arm so terribly shorn from the neck down to the armpit, that it scarcely held by a few shreds.
Therefore, others again said: "He was alive just now and walked upon the earth with arrogance, but now he cannot even move a finger." And thus speaking, some admired his stature, because he took up a large space on the battlefield, and appeared even larger in death; others again admired his peacock plume, changing colors beautifully in the snow; others again his armor, which was valued at a good village. But the Bohemian, Hlawa, now approached with two of Zbyszko's retainers in order to take it off from the deceased, therefore the curious surrounded Zbyszko, praising and extolling him to the skies, because they justly thought that his fame would redound to the credit of the whole Mazovian and Polish knighthood. Meanwhile the shield and axe were taken from him, to lighten his burden, and Mrokota of Mocarzew unbuckled his helmet and covered his hair, wet with perspiration, with a cap of scarlet cloth.
Zbyszko stood, as if petrified, breathing heavily, with the fire not fully extinguished yet in his eyes, and a face pale with exhaustion and determination and trembling somewhat with excitement and fatigue. But he was taken by the hand and led to the princely family, who were waiting for him in a warm room, by the fireside. There Zbyszko kneeled down before them and when Father Wyszoniek gave him a blessing and said a prayer for the eternal rest of the souls of the dead, the prince embraced the young knight and said:
"God Almighty decided between you two and guided your hand, for which His name be blessed. Amen!"
Then turning to the knight de Lorche and others, he added:
"You, foreign knight and all present I take as witnesses to what I testify myself, that they met according to law and custom, and as the 'Judgment of God' is everywhere performed, this also was conducted in a knightly and devout manner."
The local warriors cried out affirmatively in chorus; when again the prince's words were translated to de Lorche, he arose and announced that he not only testified that all was conducted in knightly and devout style, but should anybody in Malborg or any other princely court dare to question it, he, de Lorche, would challenge him instantly to fight either on foot or horseback, even if he should not merely be a common knight, but a giant or wizard, exceeding even Merlin's magical power.
Meanwhile, the princess Anna Danuta, at the moment when Zbyszko embraced her knees, said as she bent down to him:
"Why do you not feel happy? Be happy and thank God, because if He in His mercy has granted you this suit, then He will not leave you in the future, and will lead you to happiness."
But Zbyszko replied:
"How can I be happy, gracious lady? God gave me victory and vengeance over that Teuton, but Danusia was not and still is not here, and I am no nearer to her now than I was before."
"The most stubborn foes, Danveld, Godfried and Rotgier live no longer," replied the princess, "and they say that Zygfried is more just than they, although cruel. Praise God's mercy at least for that. Also de Lorche said that if the Teuton fell he would carry his body away, and go instantly to Malborg and demand Danusia from the grand master himself. They will certainly not dare to disobey the grand master."
"May God give health to de Lorche," said Zbyszko, "and I will go with him to Malborg."
But these words frightened the princess, who felt it was as if Zbyszko said he would go unarmed among the wolves that assembled in the winter in packs in the deep Mazovian forests.
"What for?" she exclaimed. "For sure destruction? On your arrival, neither de Lorche nor those letters, written by Rotgier before the fight, will help you. You will save nobody and only ruin yourself."
But he arose, crossed his hands and said: "So may God help me, that I shall go to Malborg and even across oceans. So may Christ bless me, that I shall look for her until the last breath of my nostrils, and that I shall not cease until I perish. It is easier for me to fight the Germans, and meet them in arms, than for this orphan to moan under ground. Oh, easier! easier!"
And he said that, as always when he mentioned Danusia, with such rapture, with such pain, that his words broke off as if some one had clutched him by the throat.
The princess recognized that it would be useless to turn him aside, and that if anybody wanted to detain him it must be by chaining him and casting him under ground.
But Zbyszko could not leave at once. Knights of that day were not allowed to heed any obstacles, but he was not permitted to break the knightly custom that required the winner in a duel to spend a whole day on the field of combat, until the following midnight, and this in order to show that he remained master of the field of battle and to show his readiness for another fight, should any of the relatives or friends of the defeated wish to challenge him to such.
This custom was even observed by whole armies, which thus sometimes lost advantages which might accrue from haste after the victory. Zbyszko did not even attempt to evade that inexorable law, and refreshing himself, and afterward putting on his armor, he lingered until midnight in the castle yard, under the clouded wintry sky, awaiting the foe that could not come from anywhere.
At midnight, when the heralds finally announced his victory by sound of trumpet, Mikolaj of Dlugolas invited him to supper and at the same time to a council with the prince.
The prince was the first to take the floor at the consultation and spoke as follows:
"It is bad that we have no writing nor testimony against the counts. Although our suspicions may be justified, and I myself think that they and nobody else captured Jurand's daughter, still what of it? They will deny it. And if the grand master asks for proofs, what shall I show him? Bah! even Jurand's letter speaks in their favor."
Here he turned to Zbyszko:
"You say that they forced this letter from him with threats. It is possible, and undoubtedly it is so, because if justice were on their side, God would not have helped you against Rotgier. But since they extorted one, then they could extort also two. And perhaps they have evidence from Jurand, that they are not guilty of the capture of this unfortunate girl. And if so, they will show it to the master and what will happen then?"
"Why, they admitted themselves, gracious lord, that they recaptured her from bandits and that she is with them now."
"I know that. But they say now that they were mistaken, and that this is another girl, and the best proof is that Jurand himself disclaimed her."
"He disclaimed her because they showed him another girl, and that is what exasperated him."
"Surely it was so, but they can say that these are only our ideas."
"Their lies," said Mikolaj of Dlugolas, "are like a pine forest. From the edge a little way is visible, but the deeper one goes the greater is the density, so that a man goes astray and loses his way entirely."
He then repeated his words in German to de Lorche, who said:
"The grand master himself is better than they are, also his brother, although he has a daring soul, but it guards knightly honor."
"Yes," replied Mikolaj. "The master is humane. He cannot restrain the counts, nor the assembly, and it is not his fault that everything in the Order is based upon human wrongs, but he cannot help it. Go, go, Sir de Lorche, and tell him what has happened here. They are more ashamed before strangers than before us, lest they should tell of their outrages and dishonest actions at foreign courts. And should the master ask for proofs, then tell him this: 'To know the truth is divine, to seek it is human, therefore if you wish proofs, lord, then seek them.' Order the castles to be summoned and the people to be questioned, allow us to search, because it is foolishness and a lie that this orphan was stolen by bandits of the woods."
"Folly and lies!" repeated de Lorche.
"Because bandits would not dare to attack the princely court, nor Jurand's child. And even if they should have captured her, it would be only for ransom, and they alone would inform us that they had her."
"I shall narrate all that," said the Lotaringen, "and also find von Bergow. We are from the same country, and although I don't know him, they say that he is a relative of Duke Geldryi's. He was at Szczytno and should tell the master what he saw."
Zbyszko understood a few of his words, and whatever he did not, Mikolaj explained to him; he then embraced de Lorche so tightly that the knight almost groaned.
The prince again said to Zbyszko:
"And are you also absolutely determined to go?"
"Absolutely, gracious lord. What else am I to do? I vowed to seize Szczytno, even if I had to bite the walls with my teeth, but how can I declare war without permission?"
"Whoever began war without permission, would rue it under the executioner's sword," said the prince.
"It is certainly the law of laws," replied Zbyszko. "Bah! I wished then to challenge all who were in Szczytno, but people said that Jurand slaughtered them like cattle, and I did not know who was alive and who dead.... Because, may God and the Holy Cross help me, I will not desert Jurand till the last moment!"
"You speak nobly and worthily," said Mikolaj of Dlugolas. "And it proves that you were sensible not to go alone to Szczytno, because even a fool would have known that they would keep neither Jurand nor his daughter there, but undoubtedly would carry them away to some other castle. God rewarded your arrival here with Rotgier."
"And now!" said the prince, "as we heard from Rotgier, of those four only old Zygfried is alive, and the others God has punished already either by your hand or Jurand's. As for Zygfried, he is less of a rascal than the others, but perhaps the more ruthless tyrant. It is bad that Jurand and Danusia are in his power, and they must be saved quickly. In order that no accident may happen to you, I will give you a letter to the grand master. Listen and understand me well, that you do not go as a messenger, but as a delegate, and write to the master as follows: Since they had once made an attempt upon our person, in carrying off a descendant of their benefactors, it is most likely now, that they have also carried off Jurand's daughter, especially having a grudge against Jurand. I ask therefore of the master to order a diligent search, and if he is anxious to have my friendship, to restore her instantly to your hands."
Zbyszko, hearing this, fell at the prince's feet, and, embracing them, said:
"But Jurand, gracious lord, Jurand? Will you intercede also in his behalf! If he has mortal wounds, let him at least die in his own home and with his children."
"There is also mention made of Jurand," said the prince, kindly. "He is to appoint two judges and I two also to investigate the counts' and Jurand's actions, according to the rules of knightly honor. And they again will select a fifth to preside over them, and it will be as they decide."
With this, the council terminated, after which Zbyszko took leave of the prince, because they were soon to start on their journey. But before their departure, Mikolaj of Dlugolas, who had experience and knew the Teutons well, called Zbyszko aside and inquired:
"And will you take that Bohemian fellow along with you to the Germans?"
"Surely, he will not leave me. But why?"
"Because I feel sorry for him. He is a worthy fellow, but mark what I say: you will return from Malborg safe and sound, unless you meet a better man in combat, but his destruction is sure."
"Because the dog-brothers accused him of having stabbed de Fourcy to death. They must have informed the master of his death, and they doubtless said that the Bohemian shed his blood. They will not forgive that in Malborg. A trial and vengeance await him because, how can his innocence be proven to the master. Why, he even crushed Danveld's arm, who is a relative of the grand master. I am sorry for him, I repeat, if he goes it is to his death."
"He will not go to his death, because I shall leave him in Spychow."
But it happened otherwise, as reasons arose whereby the Bohemian did not remain in Spychow. Zbyszko and de Lorche started with their suites the following morning. De Lorche, whose marriage to Ulryka von Elner, Father Wyszoniek dissolved, rode away happy and, with his mind entirely occupied with the comeliness of Jagienka of Dlugolas, was silent. Zbyszko, not being able to talk with him about Danusia also, because they could not understand each other very well, conversed with Hlawa, who until now had known nothing about the intended expedition into the Teutonic regions.
"I am going to Malborg," he said, "but God knows when I shall return.... Perhaps soon, in the spring, in a year, and perhaps not at all, do you understand?"
"I do. Your honor also is surely going to challenge the knights there. And God grant that with every knight there is a shield-bearer!"
"No," replied Zbyszko. "I am not going for the purpose of challenging them, unless it comes of itself; but you will not go with me at all, but remain at home in Spychow."
Hearing this, the Bohemian at first fretted and began to complain sorrowfully, and then he begged his young lord not to leave him behind.
"I swore that I would not leave you. I swore upon the cross and my honor. And if your honor should meet with an accident, how could I appear before the lady in Zgorzelice! I swore to her, lord! Therefore have mercy upon me, and not disgrace me before her."
"And did you not swear to her to obey me?" asked Zbyszko.
"Certainly! In everything, but not that I should leave you. If your honor drives me away, I shall go ahead, so as to be at hand in case of necessity."
"I do not, nor will I drive you away," replied Zbyszko; "but it would be a bondage to me if I could not send you anywhere, even the least way, nor separate from you for even one day. You would not stand constantly over me, like a hangman over a good soul! And as to the combat, how will you help me? I do not speak of war, because these people fight in troops, and, in a single combat, you certainly will not fight for me. If Rotgier were stronger than I, his armor would not lie on my wagon, but mine on his. And besides, know that I should have greater difficulties there if with you, and that you might expose me to dangers."
"How so, your honor?"
Then Zbyszko began to tell him what he had heard from Mikolaj of Dlugolas, that the counts, not being able to account for de Fourcy's murder, would accuse him and prosecute him revengefully.
"And if they catch you," he said, finally, "then I certainly cannot leave you with them as in dogs' jaws, and may lose my head."
The Bohemian became gloomy when he heard these words, because he felt the truth in them; he nevertheless endeavored to alter the arrangement according to his desire.
"But those who saw me are not alive any more, because some, as they say, were killed by the old lord, while you slew Rotgier."
"The footmen who followed at a distance saw you, and the old Teuton is alive, and is surely now in Malborg, and if he is not there yet he will arrive, because the master, with God's permission, will summon him."
He could not reply to that, they therefore rode on in silence to Spychow. They found there complete readiness for war, because old Tolima expected that either the Teutons would attack the small castle, or that Zbyszko, on his return, would lead them to the succor of the old lord. Guards were on watch everywhere, on the paths through the marshes and in the castle itself. The peasants were armed, and, as war was nothing new to them, they awaited the Germans with eagerness, promising themselves excellent booty.
Father Kaleb received Zbyszko and de Lorche in the castle, and, immediately after supper, showed them the parchment with Jurand's seal, in which he had written with his own hand the last will of the knight of Spychow.
"He dictated it to me," he said, "the night he went to Szczytno". And—he did not expect to return."
"But why did you say nothing?"
"I said nothing, because he admitted his intentions to me under the seal of confession."
"May God give him eternal peace, and may the light of glory shine upon him...."
"Do not say prayers for him. He is still alive. I know it from the Teuton Rotgier, with whom I had a combat at the prince's court. There was God's judgment between us and I killed him."
"Then Jurand will undoubtedly not return ... unless with God's help!..."
"I go with this knight to tear him from their hands."
"Then you know not, it seems, Teutonic hands, but I know them, because, before Jurand took me to Spychow, I was priest for fifteen years in their country. God alone can save Jurand."
"And He can help us too."
He then unfolded the document and began to read. Jurand bequeathed all his estates and his entire possessions to Danusia and her offspring, but, in case of her death without issue, to her husband Zbyszko of Bogdaniec. He finally recommended his will to the prince's care; so that, in case it contained anything unlawful, the prince's grace might make it lawful. This clause was added because Father Kaleb knew only the canon law, and Jurand himself, engaged exclusively in war, only knew the knightly. After having read the document to Zbyszko, the priest read it to the officers of the Spychow garrison, who at once recognized the young knight as their lord, and promised obedience.
They also thought that Zbyszko would soon lead them to the assistance of the old lord, and they were glad, because their hearts were fierce and anxious for war, and attached to Jurand. They were seized with grief when they heard that they would remain at home, and that the lord with a small following was going to Malborg, not to fight, but to formulate complaints.
The Bohemian Glowacz, shared their grief, although on the other hand, he was glad on account of such a large increase of Zbyszko's wealth.
"Hej! who would be delighted," he said, "if not the old lord of Bogdaniec! And he could govern here! What is Bogdaniec in comparison with such a possession!"
But Zbyszko was suddenly seized with yearning for his uncle, as it frequently happened to him, especially in hard and difficult questions in life; therefore, turning to the warrior, he said on the impulse:
"Why should you sit here in idleness! Go to Bogdaniec, you shall carry a letter for me."
"If I am not to go with your honor, then I would rather go there!" replied the delighted squire.
"Call Father Kaleb to write in a proper manner all that has happened here, and the letter will be read to my uncle by the priest of Krzesnia, or the abbot, if he is in Zgorzelice."
But as he said this, he struck his moustache with his hand and added, as if to himself:
"Bah! the abbot!..."
And instantly Jagienka arose before his eyes, blue-eyed, dark-haired, tall and beautiful, with tears on her eyelashes! He became embarrassed and rubbed his forehead for a time, but finally he said:
"You will feel sad, girl, but not worse than I."
Meanwhile Father Kaleb arrived and immediately began to write. Zbyszko dictated to him at length everything that had happened from the moment he had arrived at the Forest Court. He did not conceal anything, because he knew that old Macko, when he had a clear view of the matter, would be glad in the end. Bogdaniec could not be compared with Spychow, which was a large and rich estate, and Zbyszko knew that Macko cared a great deal for such things.
But when the letter, after great toil, was written and sealed, Zbyszko again called his squire, and handed him the letter, saying:
"You will perhaps return with my uncle, which would delight me very much."
But the Bohemian seemed to be embarrassed; he tarried, shifted from one foot to another, and did not depart, until the young knight remarked:
"Have you anything to say yet, then do so."
"I should like, your honor ..." replied the Bohemian, "I should like to inquire yet, what to tell the people?"
"Not those in Bogdaniec, but in the neighborhood.... Because they will surely like to find out!"
At that Zbyszko, who determined not to conceal anything, looked at him sharply and said:
"You do not care for the people, but for Jagienka of Zgorzelice."
And the Bohemian flushed, and then turned somewhat pale and replied:
"For her, lord!"
"And how do you know that she has not got married to Cztan of Rogow, or to Wilk of Brzozowa?"
"The lady has not got married at all," firmly answered the warrior.
"The abbot may have ordered her."
"The abbot obeys the lady, not she him."
"What do you wish then? Tell the truth to her as well as to all."
The Bohemian bowed and left somewhat angry.
"May God grant," he said to himself, thinking of Zbyszko, "that she may forget you. May God give her a better man than you are. But if she has not forgotten you, then I shall tell her that you are married, but without a wife, and that you may become a widower before you have entered the bedchamber."
But the warrior was attached to Zbyszko and pitied Danusia, though he loved Jagienka above all in this world, and from the time before the last battle in Ciechanow, when he had heard of Zbyszko's marriage, he bore pain and bitterness in his heart.
"That you may first become a widower!" he repeated.
But then other, and apparently gentler, thoughts began to enter his head, because, while going down to the horses, he said:
"God be blessed that I shall at least embrace her feet!"
Meanwhile Zbyszko was impatient to start, because feverishness consumed him,—and the affairs of necessity that occupied his attention increased his tortures, thinking constantly of Danusia and Jurand. It was necessary, however, to remain in Spychow for one night at least, for the sake of de Lorche, and the preparations which such a long journey required. He was finally utterly worn out from the fight, watch, journey, sleeplessness and worry. Late in the evening, therefore, he threw himself upon Jurand's hard bed, in the hope of falling into a short sleep at least. But before he fell asleep, Sanderus knocked at his door, entered, and bowing, said:
"Lord, you saved me from death, and I was well off with you, as scarcely ever before. God has given you now a large estate, so that you are wealthier than before, and moreover the Spychow treasury is not empty. Give me, lord, some kind of a moneybag, and I will go to Prussia, from castle to castle, and although it may not be very safe there, I may possibly do you some service."
Zbyszko, who at the first moment had wished to throw him out of the room, reflected upon his words, and after a moment, pulled from his traveling bag near his bed, a fair-sized bag, threw it to him and said:
"Take it, and go! If you are a rogue you will cheat, if honest—you will serve."
"I shall cheat as a rogue, sir," said Sanderus, "but not you, and I will honestly serve you."
Zygfried von Loeve was just about to depart for Malborg when the postman unexpectedly brought him a letter from Rotgier with news from the Mazovian court. This news moved the old Knight of the Cross to the quick. First of all, it was obvious from the letter that Rotgier had perfectly conducted and represented the Jurand affair before Prince Janusz. Zygfried smiled on reading that Rotgier had further requested the prince to deliver up Spychow to the Order as a recompense for the wrong done. But the other part of the letter contained unexpected and less advantageous tidings. Rotgier further informed him that in order better to demonstrate the guiltlessness of the Order in the abduction of the Jurands, the gauntlet was thrown down to the Mazovian knights, challenging everybody who doubted, to God's judgment, i.e., to fight in the presence of the whole court. "None has taken it up," Rotgier continued, "because all saw that in his letter Jurand himself bears testimony for us, moreover they feared God's judgment, but a youth, the same we saw in the forest court, came forward and picked up the gauntlet. Do not wonder then, O pious and wise brother, for that is the cause of my delay in returning. Since I have challenged, I am obliged to stand. And since I have done it for the glory of the Order, I trust that neither the grand master nor you whom I honor and heartily love with filial affection will count it ill. The adversary is quite a child, and as you know, I am not a novice in fighting, it will then be an easy matter for me to shed his blood for the glory of the Order, especially with the help of Christ, who cares more for those who bear His cross than for a certain Jurand or for the wrong done to a Mazovian girl!" Zygfried was most surprised at the news that Jurand's daughter was a married woman. The thought that there was a possibility of a fresh menacing and revengeful enemy settling at Spychow inspired even the old count with alarm. "It is clear," he said to himself, "that he will not neglect to avenge himself, and much more so when he shall have received his wife and she tells him that we carried her off from the forest court! Yes, it would be at once evident that we brought Jurand here for the purpose of destroying him, and that nobody ever thought of restoring his daughter to him." At this thought it struck Zygfried that owing to the prince's letters, the grand master would most likely institute an investigation in Szczytno so that he might at least clear himself in the eyes of the prince, since it was important for the grand master and the chapter to have the Mazovian prince on their side in case of war with the powerful king of Poland. To disregard the strength of the prince in face of the multitude of the Mazovian nobility was not to be lightly undertaken. To be at peace with them fully insured the knights' frontiers and permitted them better to concentrate their strength. They had often spoken about it in the presence of Zygfried at Malborg, and often entertained the hope, that after having subdued the king, a pretext would be found later against the Mazovians and then no power could wrest that land from their hands. That was a great and sure calculation. It was therefore certain that the master would at present do everything to avoid irritating Prince Janusz, because that prince who was married to Kiejstut's daughter was more difficult to reconcile than Ziemowit of Plock, whose wife, for some unknown reason, was entirely devoted to the Order.
In the face of these thoughts, old Zygfried, who was ready to commit all kinds of crimes, treachery and cruelty, only for the sake of the Order and its fame, began to calculate conscientiously:
"Would it not be better to let Jurand and his daughter go? The crime and infamy weigh heavily on Danveld's name, and he is dead; even if the master should punish Rotgier and myself severely because we were the accomplices in Danveld's deeds, would it not be better for the Order?" But here his revengeful and cruel heart began to rebel at the thought of Jurand.
To let him go, this oppressor and executioner of members of the Order, this conqueror in so many encounters, the cause of so many infamies, calamities and defeats, then the murderer of Danveld, the conqueror of von Bergow, the murderer of Meineger, Godfried and Hugue, he who even in Szczytno itself shed more German blood than one good fight in war. "No, I cannot! I cannot!" Zygfried repeated vehemently, and at this thought his rapacious fingers closed spasmodically, and the old lean breast heaved heavily. Still, if it were for the great benefit and glory of the Order? If the punishment should fall in that case upon the still living perpetrators of the crimes, Prince Janusz ought to be by this time reconciled with the foe and remove the difficulty by an arrangement, or even an alliance. "They are furious," further thought the old count; "but he ought to show them some kindness, it is easy to forget a grievance. Why, the prince himself in his own country was an abductor; then there is fear of revenge...."
Then he began to pace in the hall in mental distraction, and then stopped in front of the Crucifix, opposite the entrance, which occupied almost the whole height of wall between the two windows, and kneeling at its feet he said: "Enlighten me, O Lord, teach me, for I know not! If I give up Jurand and his daughter then all our actions will be truly revealed, and the world will not say Danveld or Zygfried have done it but they will lay the blame upon the Knights of the Cross, and disgrace will fall upon the whole Order, and the hatred of that prince will be greater than ever. If I do not give them up but keep them or suppress the matter, then the Order will be suspected and I shall be obliged to pollute my mouth with lying before the grand master. Which is better, Lord? Teach and enlighten me. If I must endure vengeance, then ordain it according to Thy justice; but teach me now, enlighten me, for Thy religion is concerned, and whatever Thou commandest I will do, even if it should result in my imprisonment and even if I were awaiting death and deliverance in fetters."
And resting his brow upon the wooden cross he prayed for a long time; it did not even for a moment cross his mind that it was a crooked and blasphemous prayer. Then he got up, calmed, thinking that the grace of the wooden cross sent him a righteous and enlightened thought, and that a voice from on high said to him: "Arise and wait for the return of Rotgier." "So! I must wait. Rotgier will undoubtedly kill the young man; it will then be necessary to hide Jurand and his daughter, or give them up. In the first instance, it is true, the prince will not forget them, but not being sure who abducted the girl he will search for her, he will send letters to the grand master, not accusing him but inquiring, and the affair will be greatly prolonged. In the second instance, the joy at the return of Jurand's daughter will be greater than the desire to avenge her abduction. Surely we can always say that we have found her after Jurand's outrage." The last thought entirely calmed Zygfried. As to Jurand himself there was no fear; for he and Rotgier had long before come to an understanding that in case Jurand were to be set free, he could neither avenge himself nor harm them. Zygfried was glad in his terrible heart. He rejoiced also at the thought of God's judgment which was to take place in the castle at Ciechanow. And as to the result of the mortal combat he was not in the least alarmed. He recollected a certain tournament in Koenigsberg when Rotgier overcame two powerful knights, who passed in their Andecave country as unconquerable fighters. He also remembered the combat near Wilno, with a certain Polish knight, the courtier Spytko of Melsztyn, whom Rotgier killed. And his face brightened, and his heart exulted, for when Rotgier to a certain extent was already a celebrated knight, he first had led an expedition to Lithuania and had taught him the best way to carry on a war with that tribe; for this reason he loved him like a son, with such deep love, that only those who must have strong affections locked up in their hearts are able to do. Now that "little son" will once more shed hated Polish blood, and return covered with glory. Well, it is God's judgment, and the Order will at the same time be cleared of suspicion. "God's judgment...." In the twinkling of an eye, a feeling akin to alarm oppressed his old heart. Behold, Rotgier must engage in mortal combat in defence of the innocence of the Order of the Knights of the Cross. Yet, they are guilty; he will therefore fight for that falsehood.... What then if misfortune happen? But in a moment it occurred to him again that this was impossible. Yes! Rotgier justly writes: "That by the help of Christ who cares more for those who bear the cross than for a certain Jurand or the wrong done to one Mazovian girl." Yes, Rotgier will return in three days, and return a conqueror.
Thus the old Knight of the Cross calmed himself, but at the same time he wondered whether it would not be advisable to send Danusia to some out of the way, distant castle, from which in no possible manner the stratagems of the Mazovians could rescue her. But after hesitating for a moment he gave up that idea. To take overt action and accuse the Order, only Jurandowna's husband could do that. But he will perish by Rotgier's hand. After that, there will only be investigations, inquiries, correspondence, and accusations from the prince. But this very procedure will greatly retard the affair, and it will be confused and obscured, and it goes without saying, it will be infinitely delayed. "Before it comes to anything," said Zygfried to himself, "I shall die, and it may also be that Jurandowna will grow old in the prison of the Knights of the Cross. Nevertheless, I shall order that everything in the castle be prepared for defence, and at the same time to make ready for the road, because I do not exactly know what will be the result of the meeting with Rotgier: Therefore I shall wait."
Meanwhile two of the three days, in which Rotgier had promised to return, passed by; then three and four, yet no retinue made its appearance at the gates of Szczytno. Only on the fifth day, well-nigh toward dark, the blast of the horn resounded in front of the bastion at the gate of the fortress. Zygfried, who was just finishing his vesper prayer, immediately dispatched a page to see who had arrived.
After a while the page returned with a troubled face. This Zygfried did not observe on account of the darkness, for the fire in the stove was too far back to illuminate the room sufficiently.
"Have they returned?" inquired the old Knight of the Cross.
"Yes!" replied the page.
But there was something in his voice which alarmed the old knight, and he said:
"And Brother Rotgier?"
"They have brought Brother Rotgier."
Then Zygfried got up and for a long while he held on to the arm of the chair to prevent himself from falling, then in a stifled voice he said:
"Give me the cloak."
The page placed the cloak on his shoulders. He had apparently regained his strength, for he put on the cowl himself without assistance, then he went out.
In a moment he found himself in the courtyard of the castle, where it was already quite dark; he walked slowly upon the cracking snow toward the retinue which was coming through the gate. He stopped near it where a crowd had already gathered, and several torches, which the soldiers of the guard brought, illuminated the scene. At the sight of the old knight the servants opened a way for him. By the light of the torches could be seen the terrified faces, and the whispering of the people could be heard in the dark background:
"Brother Rotgier has been killed...."
Zygfried drew near the sleigh, upon which the corpse was stretched on straw and covered with a cloak; he lifted one end of it.
"Bring a light," he said, whilst drawing aside the cowl.
One of the servants brought a torch which he held toward the corpse and by its light the old knight observed the head of Rotgier; the face was white as if frozen and bandaged with a black kerchief fastened under the beard, evidently for the purpose of keeping the mouth closed. The whole face was drawn and so much altered that it might be mistaken for somebody else's. The eyes were closed, and around them and near the temples were blue patches, and the cheeks were scaly with frost. The old knight gazed at it for a long while amid complete silence. Others looked at him, for it was known that he was like a father to Rotgier, and that he loved him. But he did not shed even a single tear, only his face looked more severe than usual, but there was depicted in it a kind of torpid calm.
"They sent him back thus!" he said at last.
But he immediately turned toward the steward of the castle and said:
"Let a coffin be prepared by midnight, and place the body in the chapel."
"There is one coffin left of those which were made for those Jurand killed; it wants only to be covered with cloth, which I shall order to be done."
"And cover him with a cloak," said Zygfried, whilst covering the face of Rotgier, "not with one like this but with one of the Order."
After a while he added:
"Do not close the lid."
The people approached the sleigh. Zygfried again pulled the cowl over his head, but he recollected something before leaving, and he asked:
"Where is van Krist?"
"He also was killed," replied one of the servants, "but they were obliged to bury him in Ciechanow because putrefaction set in."
Then he left, walking slowly, entered the room and sat down upon the same chair where he was when the tidings reached him; his face was as if petrified and motionless and he sat there so long that the page began to be alarmed; he put his head halfway in the door now and then. Hour after hour passed by. The customary stir ceased within the castle, but from the direction of the chapel came a dull indistinct hammering; then nothing disturbed the silence but the calls of the watchmen.
It was already about midnight when the old knight awoke as from sleep, and called the servant.
"Where is Brother Rotgier?" he asked.
But the servant, unnerved by the silence, events and sleeplessness, apparently did not understand him, but looked at him with fear and replied in a trembling voice:
"I do not know, sir...."
The old man burst out into laughter and said mildly:
"Child, I asked whether he is already in the chapel."
"Very well then. Tell Diedrich to come here with a lantern and wait until my return; let him also have a small kettle of coals. Is there already a light in the chapel?"
"There are candles burning about the coffin."
Zygfried put on his cloak and left.
When he entered the chapel, he looked around to see whether anybody else was present; then he closed the door carefully, approached the coffin, put aside two of the six candles burning in large brazen candlesticks in front of him, and knelt down before it.
As his lips did not move, it showed that he was not praying. For some time he only looked at the drawn yet still handsome face of Rotgier as though he were trying to discover in it traces of life.
Then amid the dead silence in the chapel he began to call in suppressed tones:
"Dear little son! Dear little son!"
Then he remained silent; it seemed as though he were expecting an answer.
Then he stretched out his hand and pushed his emaciated talon-like fingers under the cloak, uncovered Rotgier's breast and began to feel about it, looking everywhere at the middle and sides below the ribs and along the shoulder-blades: at last he touched the rent in the clothing which extended from the top of the right shoulder down to the armpit, his fingers penetrated and felt along the whole length of the wound, then he cried with a loud voice which sounded like a complaint:
"Oh!... What merciless thing is this!... Yet thou saidst that fellow was quite a child!... The whole arm! The whole arm? So many times thou hast raised it against the Pagans in defence of the Order.... In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Thou foughtest falsely, and so succumbed in a false cause; be absolved and may thy soul...."
The words were cut short on his lips which began to tremble, and deep silence reigned once more in the chapel.
"Dear little son! Dear little son!"
Now there was something like a petition in Zygfried's voice, and at the same time it seemed as he lowered his voice as though his petition contained some important and terrible secret.
"Merciful Christ!... If thou art not condemned, give a sign, move thy hand, or give one twitch of the eye, for my old heart is groaning within my breast.... Give a sign, I loved thee, say one word!..."
And supporting himself with his hands upon the edge of the coffin, he fastened his vulture-like eyes upon the closed eyelids of Rotgier and waited.
"Bah! How couldst thou speak?" said he, at last, "when frost and evil odor emanate from thee. But as thou art silent, then I will tell thee something, and let thy soul, flying about here among the flaming candles, listen!"
Then he bent down to the face of the corpse.
"Dost thou remember how the chaplain would not permit us to kill Jurand and how we took an oath. Well, I will keep that oath, but I will cause thee to rejoice wherever thou art, even at the cost of my own damnation."
Then he retreated from the coffin, replaced the candlesticks, covered the corpse with the cloak, and left the chapel.
At the door of the room, overpowered with deep sleep, slept the servant, and according to Zygfried's orders Diedrich was already waiting inside. He was of low stature thickly set, with bowed legs and a square face which was concealed by a dark cowl falling to his arm. He was dressed in an untanned buffalo jacket, also a buffalo belt upon his hips from which was hanging a bunch of keys and a short knife. In his right hand he held a membrane-covered lantern; in the other, a small kettle and a torch.
"Are you ready?" inquired Zygfried.
Diedrich bowed silently.
"I gave orders for you to bring with you a kettle with coal in it."
The short fellow was still silent; he only pointed to the burning wood in the fireplace and took the iron shovel standing at the fireside, and filled the kettle with the burning coal, then he lit the lantern and waited.
"Now listen, dog," said Zygfried; "you have never revealed what Count Danveld commanded you to do; the count also ordered the cutting out of your tongue. But you can still motion to the chaplain with your fingers. I therefore forewarn you, if you show him even with the slightest motion of your hand what you are to do now by my command, I shall order you to be hanged."
Diedrich again bowed in silence, but his face was drawn on account of the terrible, ominous recollection; for his tongue was torn out for quite another reason than what Zygfried said.
"Now proceed, and lead to the underground cell where Jurand is."
The executioner grasped the handle of the kettle with his gigantic hand, picked up the lantern and then left. At the door they passed by the guard who was asleep, descended the stairs, and turned, not toward the principal entrance, but directed their steps to the small corridor in the rear of the stairs, extending through the whole width of the edifice, and terminating in a heavy iron door which was concealed in a niche in the wall. Diedrich opened it and they found themselves again in the open air in a small courtyard surrounded on its four sides by high walled granaries where they kept their stores in case the castle should be besieged. Underneath one of these stores, on the right, was an underground prison. There was not a single guard standing there, because even if a prisoner should succeed in breaking through from the underground prison, he would then find himself in the courtyard which only gave exit through the door in the niche.
"Wait," said Zygfried, and leaning against the wall, he rested, for he felt that something was the matter with him; he was short of breath, as though his breast was too much tightened under the straight coat of mail. In plain terms, considering what had happened, he felt his old age, and his brow under the cowl was covered with drops of perspiration; he therefore stopped for a moment to recover breath.
The night following the gloomy day became extraordinarily clear and the little courtyard was brightly illuminated by the rays of the moon which caused the snow to glisten with a yellowish tint. Zygfried inhaled with pleasure the cool invigorating air, but he forgot that on a similar bright night Rotgier left for Ciechanow whence he did not return alive.
"And now thou liest in the chapel," he murmured to himself.
Diedrich thought that the count was talking to him; he therefore lifted up his lantern and threw its light upon his face which had a terrible and cadaverous appearance, but at the same time it looked like the head of an old vulture.
"Lead on," said Zygfried.
Diedrich lowered the lantern again which cast upon the snow a yellow circle of light and they proceeded. In the thick wall of the storehouse there was a recess in which several steps led to a large iron door. Diedrich opened it and went down the stairs in the deep dark aperture, raising the lantern so as to show the way to the count. At the end of the stairs there was a corridor in which, to the right and left, were exceedingly low doors leading to the cells of the prisoners.
"To Jurand!" said Zygfried.
And in a moment the bars creaked and they entered, but there was perfect darkness in the cell. But Zygfried, who could not see well in the dim light from the lantern, ordered the torch to be lighted, and in a moment he was enabled by its bright light to see Jurand lying on the straw. The prisoner's feet were fettered, but the chains on the hands were somewhat longer so as to enable him to carry food to his mouth. Upon his body was the same coarse sackcloth which he had on when he was arraigned before the court, but now it was covered with dark blood-stains, because, that day when the fight ended, only when maddened with pain the frantic knight was entangled in the net, the soldiers then tried to kill him, struck him with their halberds and inflicted upon him numerous wounds. The chaplain interfered and Jurand was not killed outright, but he lost so much blood that he was carried to prison half dead. In the castle they expected his death hourly. But owing to his immense strength he prevailed over death, although they did not attend to his wounds, and he was cast into the terrible subterranean prison, in which during the daytime when it thawed drops fell from the roof, but when there was frost the walls were thickly covered with snow and icicles.
On the ground on the straw lay the powerless man in chains, but he looked like a piece of flint shaped in human form. Zygfried commanded Diedrich to throw the light directly upon Jurand's face, then he gazed at it for a while in silence. Then he turned to Diedrich and said:
"Observe, he has only one eye—destroy it."
There was something in his voice like sickness and decrepitude, and for that very reason, the horrible order sounded more terrible, so that the torch began somewhat to tremble in the hand of the executioner. Yet he inclined it toward Jurand's face, and in a moment big drops of burning tar began to fall upon the eye of Jurand, covering it entirely from the brow down to the projecting cheek bone.
Jurand's face twitched, his grey mustachios moved, but he did not utter a single word of complaint. Whether it was from exhaustion, or the grand fortitude of his terrible nature, he did not even groan.
"It has been promised that you shall be freed, and you shall be, but you shall not be able to accuse the Order, for your tongue, which you might use against it, shall be torn out."
Then he again signaled to the executioner who replied with a strange guttural sound and showed by signs that for this he roust employ both hands, and therefore wanted the count to hold the light.
Then the old count took the torch and held it in his outstretched, trembling hand, but when Diedrich pressed Jurand's chest with his knees Zygfried turned his head and looked at the hoarfrost covered wall.
For a while resounded the clank of the chains, followed by the suppressed panting of a human breast which sounded like one dull, deep groan—and then all was still.
Finally Zygfried said:
"Jurand, the punishment which you have suffered you have deserved; but I have promised to Brother Rotgier, whom your son-in-law has killed, to place your right hand in his coffin."
Diedrich, who had just got up from his last deed, bent again upon the prostrate form of Jurand, when he heard Zygfried's words.
After a little while, the old count and Diedrich found themselves again in that open courtyard which was illuminated by the bright moon. When they reentered the corridor, Zygfried took the lantern from Diedrich, also a dark object wrapped up in a rag, and said to himself in a loud voice,
"Now to the chapel and then to the tower."
Diedrich looked keenly at the count, but the count commanded him to go to sleep; he covered himself, hanging the lantern near the lighted window of the chapel and left. On his way he meditated upon what had just taken place. He was almost sure that his own end had also arrived and that these were his last deeds in this world, and that he would have to account for them before God. But his soul, the soul of a "Knight of the Cross," although naturally more cruel than mendacious, had in the course of inexorable necessity got accustomed to fraud, assassination and concealing the sanguinary deeds of the Order, he now involuntarily sought to cast off the ignominy and responsibility for Jurand's tortures, from both himself and the Order. Diedrich was dumb and could not confess, and, although he could make himself understood with the chaplain, he would be afraid to do so. What then? Nobody would know. Jurand might well have received all his wounds during the fight. He might have easily lost his tongue by the thrust of a lance between his teeth. An axe or a sword might have easily cut off his right hand. He had only one eye; would it be strange therefore that the other eye was lost in the fracas, for he threw himself madly upon the whole garrison of Szczytno. Alas! Jurand! His last joy in life trembled for a moment in the heart of the old Knight of the Cross. So, should Jurand survive, he ought to be set free. At this, Zygfried remembered a conversation he had had once with Rotgier about this, when that young brother laughingly remarked: "Then let him go where his eyes will carry him, and if he does not happen to strike Spychow, then let him make inquiries on the road." For that which had now happened was a part of the prearranged programme between them. But now Zygfried reentered the chapel and, kneeling in front of the coffin, he laid at Rotgier's feet Jurand's bleeding hand; that last joy which startled him was only for a moment and quickly disappeared, for the last time, from his face.